Moustapha Akkad: A Martyr in Amman
The terror attacks in Jordan took the life of a filmmaker who used his fame to set the record straight on Islam's true message.
BY: Peter C. Valenti
The hotel bombings in Amman, Jordan, on November 9 brought the death of a favorite son of the Arab world. Syrian-American filmmaker Moustapha Akkad, arguably the best-known and most beloved filmmaker in the Arab and Islamic worlds, was struck down along with his daughter, Rima Akkad Monla. Though identified in the U.S. media as the producer of the eight "Halloween" movies, Akkad's death has struck a deep nerve throughout the Arab-Muslim world with the loss of this champion of positive Muslim-oriented films.
The Amman bombings, for which Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility, were roundly and immediately condemned throughout the Arab world. But Arab media coverage increased exponentially following Akkad's death a day after the bombings. The killing of Akkad revealed a grim irony. As Syrian film director Samir Zikra explained to Lebanon's Assafir on November 12, despite all of Akkad's efforts to rectify the Western depiction of Islam and Arabs, "his death solidifies and symbolizes the Arab reality much more than anything he was able to do in his films."
Akkad is an icon in the Arab-Muslim world for the specific content of his two most famous movies-among non-American audiences, that is-his 1976 film "The Message" and 1981's "Lion of the Desert." Both films, which starred Anthony Quinn and were directed and produced by Akkad, are considered by Arabs and Muslims the only historically accurate depictions of Muslim Arabs to come out of Hollywood.
"The Message," which is about the life of the Prophet Muhammad and the emergence of Islam in 7th-century Arabia, garnered an Oscar nomination in 1978 for Best Music and Original Score. The film's wide scope was aided by Akkad simultaneously filming English and Arabic versions. "The Message" has been widely viewed and applauded throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds, where it has become an integral part of Muslim families' popular cultural-religious tradition akin to that of Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 classic "The Ten Commandments" among Jewish- and Christian-Americans.
Although neither "The Message" nor Akkad's "Lion of the Desert" (about Omar Mukhtar, the hero of the Libyan resistance to Italian colonization during the Mussolini era) were box-office successes in the U.S., they were popular within the American Muslim community. He also produced historical documentaries in the Arab world, in collaboration with major Arab literati and intellectuals, and his efforts for the past 15 years had been divided between film projects on Islamic Spain and Saladin. Sean Connery had already agreed to star in the latter film.
The intense coverage of Akkad's death by Arab and Muslim media vividly illustrated his stature as the quintessential spokesperson for positive and moderate Islam. The title of Talal Salman's November 12 op-ed in the Lebanese Assafir, "The Assassination of the Message," echoes the widespread view among Arabic press editorials and op-eds that Akkad's death does great harm to Muslims' attempts to defend the true message of Islam. And the London-based pan-Arab al-Quds al-Arabi ran an elegiac cartoon of Akkad on November 12 with the heading "Those who have distorted the message killed the father of `The Message.' " These sentiments were perhaps best represented by Syrian actor Ayman Zeidan's statement to Syria's al-Thawra on November 15: "[Akkad] was able to be the true ambassador for Arab and Islamic affairs."
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